This challenge, Reunions, is the installment #4 of Tasya’s story. I started it in the previous posts for the WEP. For those who are new to the WEP blog hop, the story progressed chronologically in the following order, until it arrived at this episode:
I embarked on this journey, Tasya’s 6-part story, thanks to Denise and Yolanda from the WEP website.
“Try again.” Grandma pointed down the street. “Create an illusion of the woman who just entered the bakery.”
Tasya stopped pushing Roma’s pram and concentrated. At this time of day, nobody was around to witness her magic games. She sketched the knitted green hat and the shabby coat. She prodded the illusion into motion. What would the woman think when she came out of the bakery and saw her double? Tasya grinned, but Roma spoiled her amusement by whimpering. Her baby son wanted his pram in constant motion.
“Fine, I’m going.” She started walking again, but her grasp on magic slipped. The woman’s drab brown coat morphed into bright yellow. Tasya let the illusion dissipate.
Grandma chuckled. “You’re getting tired and sloppy. Why don’t you leave my great-grandson with me for a few hours and go to the zoo. You wanted to.”
“Oh, grandma. Truly?”
“Yes. You work hard on your magic. You deserve a break.”
Tasya pecked the old woman’s wrinkled cheek. “Thank you. I’ll be back by Roma’s next feeding. If I’m late, there is a bottle of extra milk.”
“I know. We’ll be fine.”
Tasya flew towards the bus stop. She did want to go to the zoo. Newspapers said they were bringing in a female snow leopard today, a mate for the male. She wanted to see the big cats’ first meeting. She even had a medallion of a silver spotted cat, already filled with her magic, in her purse, although she didn’t expect to need its protection among the animals.
At the zoo, a small crowd gathered to watch the gorgeous cats. They sniffed each other cautiously, and the newcomer, the female, roared her excitement. Tasya pushed her way closer to the bars. A child to her left chatted happily to his mother. To her right, two men in uniform stood silently, intent on something on the other side of the cats’ enclosure.
Tasya glanced at the insignia pins on the officers’ collars. NKVD. Alarmed, she traced their gazes to a tall thin man with a mane of graying hair who supervised the cats’ union. She recognized him from a photo in the papers. Professor Lukin, the head of the mammals department, the one who had brought the leopard from Siberia. Her magic twinged. Lukin was in danger.
Tasya inched her way out of the crowd and squeezed between the bushes concealing a narrow service aisle. She hurried to the path on the other side of the cats’ pen but stopped behind a small hut that backed the cage, out of sight of the NKVD men. She waved her hand frantically to get Lukin’s attention.
He stepped closer. “What?”
“NKVD are after you. They will be here in a moment.” Tasya grabbed the cat medallion from her purse and thrust it at him. “Put it on. You’re a cats’ man. It will protect you from arrest. Leave. I’ll stall those officers.”
He stared at her, then glanced across the cage, spotted the officers, and his face hardened.
“It will protect you, I swear,” Tasya repeated. “I’m a witch, a real one.”
After a brief hesitation, he nodded. “The real cats will protect me. I’ll hide in their hut. Those murderers won’t look there. If you want to help, a woman is waiting for me. In a wooden shelter in the south-east corner of the zoo. Go there. Give her your witchy medallion. Tell her what’s happening. Tell her to wait for me. Please. Help her. Will you?”
“You’re going inside the cage? But the leopards…”
“They won’t harm me. They both know me. I feed them.” He whirled, produced a key from his pocket, checked around to make sure nobody watched them, and disappeared inside the hut. The lock clicked shut.
Her heart stuttering, Tasya peeked out of her hiding place. The leopards still circled warily around each other, tails lashing, teeth bare, snapping occasionally. Neither paid any heed to the hut in the corner. On the other side of the cage, the NKVD men were elbowing their way out of the crowd.
A couple minutes later, they appeared on the path behind Tasya’s bushes. Her illusion was ready: a tall thin man loping away, towards the zoo exit, his gray mane flying. The NKVD chased after him.
Tasya made him whip around a corner before letting the illusion dissolve. Let them pursue the phantom. She marched in the opposite direction, towards the man’s wife.
“Oh, I’m not his wife,” the woman huddling in the tiny shelter said quietly. “I’m his… mistress, I suppose. I love him.” She gazed at the silver cat medallion in her palm but hesitated to put it on. “What if the leopards kill him?” She looked away. “Probably an easier death than if he gets arrested. Animals don’t torture their victims. They just eat them.”
Tasya winced. Not the wife? She didn’t like mistresses. In her experience, the breed was predatory, preying on helpless wives. What if her husband Misha found a mistress in Voronezh? He was on a business trip again. Should she take away the medallion, reserve it for the proper wife?
“You don’t look like a mistress,” she blurted. “Those are all beautiful and bitchy.”
The woman snorted mirthlessly. “You got it wrong, dear. His wife is beautiful and bitchy. She writes denunciations for NKVD. She got a list of names from them. Probably wrote one about both of us. She threatened she would, when we fell in love. When he got tired of her cruel beauty. Now he wants kindness and decency.” Her fingers closed over the medallion.
Tasya nodded. She should leave, she knew; she was already late for Roma’s feeding, but her magic wouldn’t let her move. She was still needed here, so she sat down beside the woman in the shelter. The woman glanced at her, her brows lifting in surprise, and shrugged. They didn’t talk.
An hour later, heavy footsteps pounded on the twisted path that led to the shelter, but neither of them had anywhere to hide. Tasya grabbed the woman’s shaking hand, the one still clutching the medallion, and tossed up the illusion of an empty shelter in front of them. “Don’t move, don’t make a sound,” she whispered.
Two NKVD officers ran past them in their flimsy shelter without slowing down.
“They didn’t see us.” The woman’s eyed Tasya incredulously. “We were right in front of them.”
“I’m a witch, I told you,” Tasya said. “I have magic.”
The woman opened her palm with the medallion, as if just remembering, and hurriedly put it on. They kept their silent vigil until Lukin showed up after the zoo closed for the night.
“They drove away,” he said. “Finally.” He opened his arms, and his mistress stepped into them without a word.
They stood in their quiet embrace for a long time. Tasya couldn’t watch. She left them to their poignant reunion and their forbidden love and tiptoed away, towards her home and her hungry son. She hoped her spotted silver cat could protect both lovers.